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Service dog puppies take on the ultimate training course 

Tracy Yoshira and one-year-old Odette go up on the lift of a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for Service Dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323.
Tracy Yoshira and one-year-old Odette go up on the lift of a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for Service Dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323. Dan Watson/The Signal
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City of Santa Clarita bus driver Oscar Magdaleno picks up people every day on his route. Throughout his years of driving, the rise of animal passengers has exponentially increased.   

The Guide Dogs of America and the city of Santa Clarita Transit worked together on Saturday to provide a bus training course for the puppies-in-training, building their confidence one bus at a time.  

Daryl Synowiec gives five-month-old Chase a treat as they exit a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323.
Daryl Synowiec gives five-month-old Chase a treat as they exit a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It’s about the controlled setting,” said Hanna Belyea, a canine developments assistant for Guide Dogs of America. “It’s slow. We allow these puppies to really get a full experience that’s controlled and contained to help them build confidence.”  

Over 25 service dog puppies and their handlers had the opportunity to train getting on, off and riding the City’s buses. Three City buses were present for the training: a 30-foot transit bus, a cut away bus and a commuter bus.  

Five-month-old Farah waits her turn during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323.
Five-month-old Farah waits her turn during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323. Dan Watson/The Signal

Each bus presented a unique disability entrance to get the puppies familiarized with all of the challenges they could face.   

“It’s pretty good for them to get familiar with the buses,” said Magdaleno. “They’re out there, we are picking them up every day, multiple times a day.”  

Puppies-in-training prepare to take a ride on a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323.
Puppies-in-training prepare to take a ride on a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323. Dan Watson/The Signal

Puppy handler Deanna Valenzuela appreciated this opportunity to expose her dog Gretel to environments that may make her uncomfortable, as it is best to do this when the dogs are puppies so that they have no fear when they are presented.  

Leaders of Guide Dogs of America walked handlers through the proper protocols to take when entering the bus, such as shortening the leash, using the handrail and allowing the puppy to take the first step.  

Puppies-in-training and handlers take turns entering and exiting City of Santa Clarita buses during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323.
Puppies-in-training and handlers take turns entering and exiting City of Santa Clarita buses during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323. Dan Watson/The Signal

They all also had the opportunity to take a ride on the buses around Central Park.  

No matter how many mistakes or mishaps were made, each handler continued to go through the training until the puppies were consistent and confident.  

Dean Houser and eight-month-old Vaquito exit a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323.
Dean Houser and eight-month-old Vaquito exit a City of Santa Clarita bus during City Transit Day Training for service dog puppies-in-training held at Central Park in Saugus on Saturday, 051323. Dan Watson/The Signal

The puppies present ranged from five months to 14 months old, all at different levels in their training journeys.  

Valenzuela’s dog Gretel will move on to formal training on July 15. 

“I’m a first-time puppy raiser, so it’s gonna probably be the hardest thing I do, but probably the most rewarding,” said Valenzuela.  

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